Spring cleaning is one of those annual rituals that may feel daunting at first, but it pays off with the satisfaction of having a better organized — and therefore less stressful — home. It can pay off financially, too, if you do it right, leaving you with some extra cash to put toward a spring break getaway or to save for a rainy day.
Half of Americans believe that they have more than $1,000 worth of unused items in their homes, and 41 percent haven’t decluttered in more than a year, according to a recent report by mobile marketplace OfferUp. Follow these six steps to make sure your spring-cleaning leaves you with not only a tidier home, but also a fatter wallet.
1. Clear out the obvious clutter. Americans are notorious for accumulating things that they don’t want or need. Many of those items have little value — to you or anyone else. Start with low-hanging fruit like your junk drawer, stacks of old magazines or newspapers and discarded or broken toys. Check out Earth911’s recycling guide, for tips on how to get rid of large items or things that you’re unsure whether to junk or recycle.
Then work through the house room by room, making piles of items that can be sold, donated or trashed. Ben Soreff, a professional organizer and owner of House to Home Organizing suggests asking yourself two questions about things you don’t frequently use: How expensive is it and how hard would it be to get again?
“People live with a lot of good intentions and wishful thinking,” he says. “They’ll say ‘I always wanted to be a gourmet chef, or I was going to go skateboarding or skiing. They’re keeping stuff as a reminder of what their life could be, and that’s where the anxiety and emotions come in.”
2. Be realistic about the value of your items. Once you’ve chucked the worthless things that are taking up space, you’ll need to move on to useful items that you no longer want or need in your current life. Check sites like eBay to get a sense of the current value of items like jewelry, furniture or vintage clothing. Look at the prices that pieces have sold for, rather than the asking prices of items still for sale.
3. Sell at the right places. Where you sell your items depends on what you have and how much effort you’d like to put into the process. A growing number of sites and tools will allow you to sell nearly anything online, from long-time favorites like CraigsList and eBay to Facebook Marketplace and apps like OfferUp, letgo or Gone. If you go that route, depending on what you’re selling, it may be wise to meet up in a public place for the exchange. Keep in mind, also, that on eBay, established sellers who already have strong ratings from customers may have the best luck with high-priced items. Consigning your items to an established seller may be an option, too.
While many people understandably look to sell online, consider other options as well. If you’ve emptied your entire home, you might consider starting with a yard sale, which is a quick way to get rid of a large quantity of items.
If you have fewer things, or specific items, it may be worth spending some time selling them individually.
- Costume jewelry and name brand clothes: Look for a consignment shop whose clientele might seem interested in your items, and make sure that the clothes have recently been cleaned and pressed. If you don’t have luck there, check out sites like ThredUp.com or Poshmark.com.
- Fine jewelry: Most jewelers will purchase fine jewelry from customers, offering a price based on the current market price of the metal and gemstones in the piece.
- Electronic devices: Devices less than three years old may still have some value. Check out online trade-in sites like BuyBackWorld.com. Amazon also has a fairly robust trade-in market for electronics, but it pays in Amazon gift cards.
4. Donate things that aren’t worth selling. If your yard sale is a bust, or you want to get rid of useful things that hold very little value, consider making a charitable donation. Some charities, like Big Brother Big Sister and Purple Heart, will come to you and pick up everything from housewares to clothing. Look for a designated nonprofit and ask for a receipt for the donation, which you’ll need in order to write off the donation at tax time.
5. Be smart about financial records. Take special care when you’re purging your financial documents, since throwing out the wrong thing could cause trouble at tax time. Shred anything that contains personal financial information to keep your data safe from identity thieves. You can put ATM receipts, bank deposit slips (once the funds are in your account) and receipts for anything you bought with a credit card right into the shredder. You can also get rid of any utility bills, paycheck stubs or account statements if they’re available online, which is usually the case these days.
You should hold onto your tax returns themselves, but throw out any supporting documentation after seven years.
6. Organize yourself for the future. Investing in containers and storage systems can be expensive, but it can also set you up for future success. One of the key benefits of organizing your home is that when you know where everything is, you’re less likely to waste money repurchasing items that you already have.
Group similar items together and make sure that any organizing system leaves you with room to grow. “Organizing to the point where you fill up a drawer or container sounds great,” says Jamie Novak, an organization and design guru and author of Keep This Toss That. “But then you get one more thing in that category and there’s no place for it. I always leave room to add more things.”
Once everything has a place, consider using an app like Know Your Stuff from the Insurance Information Institute to catalog your things. The process will not only protect you in an insurance event, but it will also give you a full home inventory that you can refer to later.